Reviewed by Christy Herndon
I have the unfortunate, although probably not uncommon, habit of buying books upon books before I’ve given myself a chance to read the ones that are already gathering dust on my shelf. I also still have a soft spot for Young Adult literature even though I’m long past the age of the target demographic. So when I learned Jay Asher was stopping by our library as part of our Discovery Series last August it seemed like a perfect opportunity to check his novel Thirteen Reasons Why off my to-read list.
Thirteen Reasons Why begins with a high school student named Clay finding a box of cassette tapes on his front porch when he comes home one afternoon. He soon discovers that the tapes were recorded and sent by his classmate Hannah, who recently committed suicide. The instructions are simple. Each tape tells the story of one person and how their actions played a part in her decision to end her life. After Clay listens to the tapes, he must send them to the next person on the list. The book was written in 2007 but has steadily gained popularity by word of mouth, and even has a movie due out in 2013 starring Selena Gomez.
While I did enjoy the book as a whole, I can’t say I liked Hannah’s character very much. She seemed spiteful and petty and at times a bit hypocritical. (One of her tapes is sent to a boy because he allowed a horrible act to happen; though she was in a position to stop the act as well.) The book has also left some critics uneasy with its portrayal of a suicidal teen, claiming that those who contemplate suicide do so for reasons probably deeper and less superficial than what Hannah experiences. Some also take issue with how Hannah’s death almost seems like her last act of revenge as well – which is not how most suicidal teens feel.
That being said, this book was a quick and interesting read. It does deal with some pretty heavy issues (suicide, drunk driving, etc.) but they are important ones, especially in regards to teenagers. But don’t let the YA label fool you. The general message is one with an even broader appeal: be aware of how you treat others. Hannah refers to it in the book as “the snowball effect” – little, seemingly insignificant things that pile up on top of each other before creating an avalanche. Perhaps an offhand comment made by someone without a second thought can be absolutely devastating to someone else. With teen bullying a mainstay in news outlets for the past couple of months, this book certainly hasn’t fallen on deaf ears.
Any book that advocates for kindness as hard as this one does is a book I would definitely recommend.
Note: Christy is one of our volunteers. She's a wonderful help to us and we appreciate her very much. Thanks, Christy!